Saturday, December 31, 2011

Exploring Genres: January 2012: Graphic Novels

January 2012 is the first month in our reading challenge: Exploring Genres. The Featured Genre for the month is: Graphic Novels.

I've never been a fan of comic books. I really don't have a lot of experience with them. When I was growing up, all the comic books that the boys were reading were super hero stuff - Superman, X-Men, Batman, etc. I was never really into the super hero thing. The girls I knew, who read comics, all read stuff like the Archie Comics, which weren't that interesting to me, either. So, I just never got into comic books. When I first heard about graphic novels, I had no interest because they are just larger versions of comic books.

Well, with the Exploring Genres challenge, we'll be reading Graphic Novels. So, I've been searching for ideas of some that might be enjoyable. I have also been searching for some possibilities for Jay. I'll pretty much let Dea pick out her own, though may suggest some if I find any I think she'd like.

Finding some for Jay is proving to be more of a challenge than I had expected. The ones for kids all seem so cheesy. They have these goofy sounding stories that really just don't sound like they'd hold his attention. The few that sound like they might interest him, apparently (from what I've found online, anyway) have rather low reading levels (like in the 2nd grade range, even though many of them are listed as books for middle grade students). Now, I don't mind if the kids read some books below their reading ability, but I prefer to have most of what they read at a comfortable or challenging level, not blindingly easy. It is really difficult to find reading level info for graphic novels, though. I might just have to deal with it and let him read the ones at such low reading levels, as long as he continues to read other books as well.

We have picked up a large stack of graphic novels from the library. Both kids are looking forward to the challenge starting & can hardly wait to dig into the pile of graphic novels we have right now.

I found a bunch of Max Axiom ones for Jay. Looking through one, I have to say I'm fairly impressed. It contained actual scientific information and wasn't as dumbed-down as I was expecting. He loves Science and is really looking forward to reading those. I also found the Amulet series and some Goosebumps graphic novels. He's got more on hold on his card, too - more Max Axiom and some Star Wars.

Dea's got the graphic novel version of Twilight and some horror-themed ones. She'll also likely read many of those I check out for me. Jay may be reading some of them, too. The ones on my library cover a wide range, from The Last Unicorn to 300 to Ray Bradbury to Shaun of the Dead.

Of course, we won't be only reading the graphic novels. Each of us also has regular books out that we're reading & will continue to read other books. I'm hoping to post each week with a list of what each of us has read.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Preparing for next year, mentally

Next year is coming up very soon. I am trying to get myself mentally prepared for it.

Since I will be rededicating myself to my fitness goals, I am working on forming the habits I'll need for that. I have been forming the habit of visiting SparkPeople everyday (even if I didn't workout), reading articles, tracking my liquid intake, etc. I'm working on setting aside a time of day just for exercising, so I'll be able to fit it in daily.

I'm also working on getting myself on a schedule for unnecessary internet use. I plan to visit my social places (FB, Google+, forums, etc) only at meal times, when I'm already sitting down & not really busy. That should give me enough time to catch up with people, converse, and play the few games I play. If I get in the habit of visiting those sites at certain times, it will hopefully help me visit them regularly & spend less time at each visit (I often go days or weeks without visiting one or more of these sites, then spend extra time trying to catch up when I do visit).

I also want to try out different schedules for Jay, to see if we can find something that works a bit better than our current one. Right now, I'm brainstorming ideas for new schedules, but we won't try them until next week.

I'm also trying to finish the big purge that I started a little while back. We're mostly done, just need to finish the office, living room, and kitchen. I hope to get them done this week, because I'd really like to start the new year less 'cluttered'. So far, this purge has filled 4 1/2 boxes, deleted over 20,000 emails, removed many no longer read subscriptions, and vanquished some negativity.

I'm also considering a schedule for my blog, to make sure that I do regular updates about all the things I want to do updates for - our 'Exploring Genres' challenge, 'Poet of the Month' challenge, my fitness progress, Jay's schooling & new method of 'no official start/end dates' that he wants to do, Dea's schooling with her having majority control. I'd still do the random posts about daily stuff, holidays, etc., but with a schedule, I could be certain the regular updates I want to do actually get done.

The year is ending soon. What plans do you have for the new year & how are you getting ready?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Should be Doing Dishes...but

I really should be in the kitchen getting dishes done, to help catch up after the many that were dirtied for Christmas. However, I'm not spending my day standing in the kitchen doing dishes, or any other housework, for that matter. My back still hurts. Yes, it's been more than a week since I slipped on the ice, hurting my back. The Fibromyalgia isn't helping any. Plus, I keep doing things that make it worse, like crawling around on the floor cleaning, then spending 1 1/2 hrs standing while doing food prep & lifting heavy dishes full of food, then bending over for 20 minutes while rearranging the fridge. So, I'm taking it easy today.

I've been spending the day working on plans for next school year. Dea' year of taking control of her education starts next week, and Jay wants to drop official 'Start' & 'End' dates for his schooling. I'll still have a specific date that I consider the start of the new grade, but he won't need to know when it is, as it will have no impact on his work. So, I'll be using a new notebook to track his work, starting in January. I spent a few hours last night & much of this morning working on getting the plan laid out in that notebook. I'm almost done. I just need to fill in the pages for the plan for Science. I'll be using the notebook I started for 2nd grade to track his work for the rest of his Science & History that was already planned (mainly because I don't want to re-write all of it into another notebook). Everything else is in the new notebook, though. I even set up a section in back to track his free reading books & what he reads for our 'Poet of the Month' & 'Exploring Genres' challenges. I spent most of the morning working on the plan for History - finding the books we have here on the topics, creating a list of possible projects, creating a list of fun reading & read-aloud possibilities (mostly historical fiction & all books that we own or are carried by the local library). I won't plan the non-fiction books that we'll use from the library, because it's impossible to tell what they'll have in when we need them. I still need to search Netflix for shows/documentaries related to our topics. Then, I need to do all of that for our Science topics.

Once I'm done with my notebook for Jay, I need to set up my notebook for Dea's work. I'll be checking her work every week. So, I'll record what work I checked over each week, in my notebook. This will help me keep track of whether or not she is doing all of her required assignments in Writing & Math, as well as seeing how much work is getting done is other areas & track her progress. I need to write in all the stuff that is required for each course, though, to be considered enough for credit. I'll also set up a section to track her reading for our challenges & maybe her free reading.

So, this is what I'm working on for the next few days, while I take it easy.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Here's a rundown of what we did for our December 2011 holidays

Books the kids read:

Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights The Story of the Christmas Symbols


A child's Christmas in Wales

Christmas Poems - we took turns reading poems from this on several nights

The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories - we took turns reading the stories from this, so everyone got in on the story-telling

Miracle on 34th Street

Saint Francis and the Nativity

The Real Santa Claus

The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree

The Christmas Story: From the Gospels of Matthew and Luke - this one has the text from the Bible paired with gorgeous pictures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Christmas Story

The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories - our library didn't have any other copies of The Gift of the Magi, so we got this book just to read that story

A Wreath of Christmas Poems - this is a rather old issue (1942) from a monthly publication 'Poet of the Month'

Elf Elementary


How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Frosty the Snowman

Movies/Shows for just hubby and me:

Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special

Love Actually

Drive around town looking at lights & decorations
Go to the 'Festival of Lights,' a light display our city does each year

We decided to pick up a few Hanukkah books to read. Dea is currently studying Judaism, to determine if that is the religion she would like to follow. So, we figured it would be a good idea to learn about Hanukkah.
A Confused Hanukkah

In the Month of Kislev

Eight Wild Nights

Hanukkah, Shmanukkah!

The Story of Hanukkah

Eight Winter Nights: A family Hanukkah Book

Dea: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook;  Pail of Primates symbolic adoption from WWF
Jay: Arabian Nights; Tub of Cubs symbolic adoption from WWF
Hubby: the beginnings of a beautiful Nativity Set (Fontanini, hand-painted, imported from Italy); a Sea Otter symbolic adoption from WWF
Me: a meat slicer; a Grey Wolf symbolic adoption from WWF; a wolf picture
Family gifts: Bezzerwizzer, Rummikub, Blokus

Food: mini turkey meatballs in cranberry bbq sauce, latkes, homemade artisan bread, bagel balls, pork loin stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, & Feta, peanut butter blossom cookies, mini phyllo cups with filling of cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, crab meat, pepper, and dill topped with shrimp, mini phyllo cups with filling of cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, vanilla, mint, & cinnamon topped with fruit (pineapple, mandarin oranges, cherries), and a cheese tray

Fun: I hid the plush animals, from out adoptions, around the house, and we went on a safari to find them all. Much of the day was spent playing our new games. We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, again, and listened to Christmas music. It was a fun, relaxing day. We ended the day by having my sister & brother-in-law come over for an evening of playing cards.

Jay's birthday
We do the bulk of his birthday celebration in February, on the anniversary of the day he finally came home from the hospital. He was 12 weeks early, and spent about 2 months in NICU before he came home. We like to do something on his birthday to celebrate, but due to it's proximity to the holidays, it's easier to do the bigger celebration in February (more affordable, too). He got to choose dinner for his birthday. He choose the Chinese restaurant we went to during his study of Ancient China. He got to stay up late and watch a movie on his birthday.

As you can see, December has been a busy month for us. I hope your holiday was as enjoyable.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Starting Over

You know those times when something isn't going the way you need/want it to, so you decide just to start back at square 1? Well, I'm having one of those times. Ever since Jay was born, I've been battling with my weight. It has been very difficult because of my asthma and some other conditions I'm dealing with. I'm in pain, a lot of the time. Exercising make the pain worse most of the time. So, I haven't done a very good job at losing weight. In fact, I've gained more. Of course, the severe weakening of my muscles & immune system by the pneumonia hasn't helped. I've decided to start over with my weight loss plan. I will be starting in January.

I've pulled out the pedometer &n will be getting a new battery for it today. I am also going to pick up some ankle and wrist weights to wear while exercising. I plan to get a stepper. I've got a Gazelle, but it squeaks, loudly. Since it is so loud, I can't use it while the kids are doing school, during quiet reading time, or at night/early morning when everyone else is in bed. That severely limits the hours of the day in which I can workout. So, I want to get a stepper, because it will be quiet, easy to move around, easy to store, and if I get one with resistance bands & wear the weights, it will be a decent workout.

Once I have lost some weight & am in better shape, I will add Yoga & Pilates in. Then, after even more progress, I'll add Belly Dancing again. I'm also going to try to get the whole family to do walks or hikes on a weekly basis, and will get outside with the kids more often when they go out for their outside play time.

I closed my account on SparkPeople (a website with tools to help you lose weight & live a healthy life), and signed up again. That seemed to be the best & fastest way to start over with my progress on there. I set up my fitness goals and will start tracking my goals in January.

This last week, I made another change. I gave up Mt Dew. I started drinking flavored, carbonated water because that's what the kids were drinking when they were sick. After a few days of that, Mt Dew was just too sweet. I'm keeping my coffee & tea, but haven't had Mt Dew in a week. I'll still drink soda occasionally. I enjoy root beer & cream soda too much to give them up completely. I was drinking 4-6 cans of Mt Dew a day, though. That's 680 - 1020 calories just from soda, on an average day! Honestly, Mt Dew was probably my worst dietary habit. Now, I know some of you are thinking "Just drink regular tap water." I can't though. Water has to have flavor for me to drink it consistently. I just can't do glass after glass of boring, flavorless water all day, and flavor packets can get expensive. Plus, the carbonation helps when I'm congested or my throat is bothering me.

I'm also going to be making sure the kids & I meditate daily, and trying to get Jay into Yoga. Next year should be pretty busy & interesting for us, with all the changes we're making.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our Week

I know the week isn't over yet, but I'll do a recap of our week anyway. We've done most of what I had planned to do this week. Well, Jay has. Dea is still slacking a bit & I'm starting to get quite irritated. Anyway, here's what Jay has done.

Math - He's right on track this week. He has done everything he needed to do, each day, without a fight. I think we'll change things up a bit in January, though. Right now, our Math looks like this: Mon - 30 min Math games for review & practice; Tues - 1 page Defeating Division; Wednesday - 30 min Khan Academy; Thurs - 1 page Defeating Division; Fri - Key to Measurement. Come January, I think I'll drop Key to from the schedule, letting him go back to doing it whenever he wants, and bump Defeating Division up to 3 days a week. The entire purpose of this schedule was to slow down the use of Defeating Division. He often gets frustrated when he makes a mistake, even if he's just learning how to do something. So, I wanted to have him move slowly for a little while, to ease the frustration. He's doing really well, though, and I think he's ready to speed up a bit.
Writing - His Word Bank and Writer's Notebook are hole-punched and in his binder. He has his topic picked out for the last assignment for this level. We'll get started on his research paper in January. As soon as we get the materials for next year, he'll start the next level of Writing.
Grammar - He's been doing Easy Grammar daily this week and doing great. We had been taking some days off here & there because our school year is longer than the 180 days provided in Easy Grammar. Since I only bought 1 level for 2nd grade, so we could see if it worked for him & if he liked it, that would leave approximately 45 days with no Grammar. It made more sense to spread those days out over the year, instead of having 9 weeks at the end of the school year with no Grammar. We're close enough, to when I'll be purchasing for the upcoming year,  that I think we can stop skipping days. If we finish early, we'll just start on the next level. He's almost done with Grammar Tales, as well. He has one worksheet to do to finish up Sentence Structure, which he's doing today. In January, we'll do the last book, Proofreading.
Spelling - This is an area we've slacked this week. We have done no Spelling at all this week. We use All About Spelling, which is not something he can do independently. I've had a headache most of the week, so we haven't done it.
Science & History - All I had planned to get done this week was to finish reading whatever library books we had & maybe watch some documentaries. We've finished the books, and so far watched one documentary. Since we've dropped Terms & are just moving at his pace, I'm not sure when we'll be done with our current topics. I think that we'll be moving on in Science shortly after we start back. Flight, Forces, and Motion has been a rather light one. Our library is quite short on books about Gravity, Friction, Air Pressure, Lift, etc. I looked through many of the general Physics books that came up in the search, but the parts on the topics we need are very short, all give the same info, and it's not new info. So, I think that once we have finished watching the documentaries and doing the activities, we'll be done. We should finish all of that over our Christmas break. For History, he's really enjoying our current topic and we'll likely continue with it for at least another month or so.
Geography - He's been doing his own thing with this. His thing, however, has been mostly map work, online games, and learning locations of the states. I suggested doing a fun state study, starting in January, and he loves the idea. The plan is basically to study one state each month - capital, symbols, museums, zoos, famous/important people from the state, etc. That will be starting, with Illinois, in January.
Music - He has practiced his flute and recorder almost every day. He's so happy to be able to do them again. He has also been playing the drum he decorated for History.
Art - He has done one page of Creating Line Designs book 3. He can do another if he wants, but I'm not pushing it.
ASL - We should have watched the new dvd yesterday, but didn't. We're going to watch it today, then make sure to practice over the break.
Logo Adventures - We haven't done a lesson in this, either. I think I'll just have him practice previous lessons over the break & start up again in January.

So, we're on track to be done with most of what I wanted to do this week. The next two weeks should be relaxing, as we read, do History & Science activities/projects, watch some documentaries & some Mythbusters, and bake cookies.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner part 2

I have already posted Thanksgiving Dinner part 1, which had all the dishes we had for Thanksgiving that did not require a recipe. This post will contain the foods that did require recipes. All the recipes that follow came from Spirit of the Harvest. We tweaked some of them. So, I'll put our changes/notes in red with the recipes.

Some notes on this meal:
Whenever oil was used, it was Sunflower Oil
The only sweetener we used was honey
The only flour used was corn flour

Hoe Cakes:
2C water
2C cornmeal
2tsp Salt {we omitted the salt}
2 Tbl butter {we used oil}
1 Tbl chopped fresh dill (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in Cornmeal, salt, butter, and dill, if desired. Place in a buttered 8-in square pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cut into squares and serve. Serves 6-8.

Dea made this. She made a double batch, I think. It was quite good, basically just baked polenta.

Sweet Potato Cakes:
2 large sweet potatoes, cooked & peeled
2 eggs
1/2C flour
1 tsp salt {we omitted}
1/2tsp ground, dried spicebush berries or allspice {used allspice}
2-3 Tbl bacon drippings, lard, or oil {used oil}

In mixing bowl, mash sweet potatoes. Stir in eggs, flour, and seasonings.
Heat drippings on a griddle of in a large skillet. Drop sweet potato mixture onto griddle with large soup spoon. Brown on one side. Turn cakes & flatten with a spatula. Brown on other side and serve hot with butter or honey. Makes 10-12 cakes.

Dea also made this. She made it a little thick, though, and couldn't cook it all the way through in the pan. So, they were finished off int he oven, to make sure they were cooked in the middle. These were very good. Even Jay, who hates sweet potatoes,  really enjoyed them.

Blackfoot Buffalo and Berry Soup:
1 1/2lbs buffalo or beef chuck steak, trimmed and cubed {used bison meat, think it was between 1 1/2 - 2lbs}
3Tbl bacon drippings or vegetable oil {used oil}
4C meat broth or water {used chicken stock}
1C sliced green onions {didn't measure, just used 1 bunch}
1C fresh serviceberries, blackberries or blueberries, washed and drained {used fresh blueberries and dried blueberries & cranberries for total of 2 - 2 1/2C fruit}
1Tbl honey

Brown meat in hot bacon drippings or oil in a Dutch Oven. Add broth, green onions, berries, and honey. Simmer for 1 hour, or until meat is tender. Season with salt & pepper. Serves 4 to 5.

We simmered for about 2 hours. This was fantastic! It was a great combination of flavors, and everyone enjoyed it.

Sauteed Wild Mushrooms and Onions:
4 strips bacon
3/4lb wild mushrooms - morels, chanterelles, honey mushrooms, or oyster mushrooms {our local stores had a very slim selection of mushrooms. We ended up with shitake, wood ear, and button. Also, we didn't measure, but I'm pretty sure it was more than 3/4lb} 
1/4C sliced green onions
Salt & pepper to taste

We had to get some of the mushroom dried & re-hydrate them.

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Remove bacon, chop or crumble, and reserve. Reserve drippings in skillet.
Clean mushrooms {I shortened this. In the cookbook, it gives directions for cleaning mushrooms}and slice if necessary
Heat bacon drippings over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and green onions and saute for 1-2 minutes, until just tender. Return bacon to skillet, toss, and serve. Season with salt & pepper. Serves 4-6

So, that was the rest of our Thanksgiving dinner. If you haven't read it yet, check out Thanksgiving Dinner part 1. It has the Cranberry Honey Turkey, Cranberry-Strawberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes with Dill & Chives, Fried Polenta (with & without dried fruit), and Fruit Salad. Though, I don't have pictures for all of it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The coming week

This is our last week before our 2 week Christmas break. It is going to be rather difficult to keep everyone focused.  They will both continue with some school work over the break. Dea will continue her Writing course, because it is online & they have their own schedule, and she'll continue her Algebra. Jay will continue Math, read every day, and we'll likely do some of the Science experiments & History projects we have planned for this year. I'm hoping to also watch some of the documentaries on our current topics of study.

This week will actually be similar to our break, though a bit more work will get done this week (hopefully). Jay is pretty much over his Bronchitis, so we can resume Music, Latin, and Spanish. However, starting Latin & Spanish again right before we take a break seems rather pointless. We'll wait until January to start those again. Here's what I'm hoping to get done this week with Jay:
Math - everyday, our normal plan
Writing - he's almost done with his Writing book. He just finished Unit 9. Unit 10 is 'Discovering the Writer's Notebook' which is nothing more than reference. Unit 11 is a personal word bank. This week, we'll get those hole-punched and into his binder, so he has them. That will just leave Unit 8 'Discovering Research' for which the assignment is to research and write a book. He has requested to instead do a research paper. He chose a topic, but doesn't think he can get a whole book out of it, which is why he wants to do a paper instead. His topic of choice is "Why it is wrong to kill animals just for their fur." He'll start the paper after the break, so we want to have the 'Writer's Notebook' and word bank ready before then.
Spelling - I'm hoping to get through the next one or two steps of level 2.
Grammar - one page of Easy Grammar a day & finish up the Sentence Structure Grammar Tales
Science & History - finish reading all books we currently have out from the library & watch some documentaries
Music - we'll probably work on some Christmas songs, maybe get back to flute & recorder practice
Art - one or two pages from Creating Line Designs book 3
ASL - I think we'll start a new DVD and then practice over the break & do a quick review when we start up again in January
Geography - I'll let him continue doing this on his own.
Logo Adventures - I think we'll do the next lesson, and let him practice all the lessons he's done over the break

We'll also continue reading Christmas books, books about the history & customs of Christmas, Hanukkah books, books about Hanukkah, etc. Plus, we're starting to get revved up for our Reading Challenge that we're starting in January. We'll search the library catalog to get some ideas for our books choices.

Honestly, my favorite thing about this week is the fact that the kids are sleeping upstairs again. They have been sleeping downstairs for about 2 weeks now, pretty much since the Bronchitis diagnosis. It started with Jay sleeping in my bed with my hubby. however, Jay talks moves, and kicks a lot in his sleep. So, we brought his mattress down & put it in the school room. He was still using my pillows, to stay propped up while he slept, so I still wasn't back in my bed (I can't sleep in the bed without pillows). Dea apparently couldn't sleep upstairs because it was too quiet without Jay up there. She slept in the school room, too. They often talked in their sleep; I even heard Dea yelling at him in her sleep one night. I have spent the last 2 weeks sleeping in my recliner, which is not the most comfortable thing in the world. My muscles are killing me (my Fibro really doesn't like it when I sleep in the chair). Sunday, his mattress went back up to his room and the bedding from my bed was washed. So, my bed is germ free again! It's so nice to have my bed back, to have my pillows back!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Eaters of the Dead

In a previous post, I mentioned that our memories can be affected by several things. The associations a memory has have a large impact on how we remember something. In other words, the filing system your brain used when filing away a memory will determine how you view that memory.

I recently re-read Eaters of the Dead. My original memory of this book was that I didn't like it. Ibn Fadlan's name was too long (when he is introduced, his name includes ancestors back to his great-great grandpa), and in my memory, the names were written out that way quite often in the book. I found it slow, boring, and was not impressed with it.

Our minds can play tricks with our memories, and mine did in regards to this book. In fact, Ibn Fadlan's name is only written out in that ridiculously long way one time. My memory said it was much more often, but it was wrong. I'm not sure exactly why I remembered it the way I did. I vaguely remember having conversations with a friend about the name & the fact that some cultures put too much stock in your father was, the idea of a whole family being respected or shunned based on the actions of one person, etc. So, maybe it was these conversations, the extra focus on the name, that caused me to remember it as more prominent.

I think one reason I had such a negative reaction to memories of this book was the association with  school. I did not like school. I loved learning. I loved reading. I hated school. School was a giant popularity contest with some busywork thrown in. I was the brainy girl who preferred my dinosaur models & chemistry set to my Barbies. I was the girl who always had a book in her in hands. I was the student reading a Stephen King novel in class, who the teacher would then call on to answer a question because he was convinced I wasn't paying attention, and I'd get it right. I was the perfectionist who would be pissed about a less than perfect grade on something I cared about, but who would skip a class that I didn't care about. I was the student who would argue about an answer marked wrong, explain the logic behind my answer & why my answer was correct. I was the student being accused of cheating in Math because I could get the answer in my head & my teacher couldn't. I was not miss popularity. I was bored with the work, disliked most of the people, was disliked by many students & several teachers, and saw most of the experience of 13 years in ps as a monumental waste of time. In other words, school doesn't bring up a lot of happy memories. Most of my memories of school are negative.

So, it's not surprising that my memory of this book was colored by my negative feelings about school. When I read this in school it would have been 10th or 11th grade. In 10th grade, I was in high school #2, spent much of my time in the office or ISS, and was being harassed by an assistant principal who wanted to expel me. In 11th grade, I transferred to high school #3. It was one more school at which I would do work I'd done years before, one more school at which I had to start over (high school #3 was school #7, 7 schools from K-12). These aren't exactly positive memories. Combine that with the fact that the teacher didn't tell us anything about the book before we read it and that I was quite disappointed in what it was (I had thought it would be quite different, based on the title), and it's no wonder that my memories of this book weren't exactly warm & fuzzy.

Though, not all of my memories of it were altered by the general negativity surrounding my first reading of it. I remembered there being several mentions of public sexual acts, and there were several mentions of it. I remember it as boring, and honestly I still kind of feel that way. It's not so much that's it's boring & slow (though it is), it's the fact that it could have, should have, been more. It's not a boring topic, being a retelling of Beowulf. The descriptions just aren't that good. They're kind of vague. They don't allow you to truly see it in your mind's eye. I kind of saw it, but not really. I've seen The 13th Warrior several times (it's based on Eaters of the Dead) and just kind of saw that playing in my mind, and even that was only sometimes. I guess, I'm still kind of disappointed, but this time it's for a different reason. This time I'm disappointed because I don't feel that it is as good, as detailed, as well-done as I've come to expect from Crichton.

I'm still glad I re-read it, though. It's not my favorite work by the author, but it is better than I originally remembered it being. There was no negativity surrounding my reading it this time. I went into with an open mind, willingly, and knowing the premise of the book. My opinion has improved, but I still don't think of it as a great book. I do still intend to have Dea read it. She'll read it soon, probably the week after next. I'll be able to discuss it, analyze it, with her with it fresh in my mind. She might even enjoy the book.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Featured Poets 2012

Now that I finally got Dea to enjoy poetry again (I accidentally killed her enjoyment of poetry by using a curriculum that teaches poetry forms & elements & was insanely boring) and Jay is also enjoying poetry, I thought it would be fun to do a poetry challenge. Each month, we'll have a featured poet. We will read poems  by that poet throughout the month. We are also aiming to read at least one poem per day, though they may not all be by the featured poet. I tried to choose poets that cover a variety of styles & forms.

Here are our featured poets for 2012:
January: Edward Lear
February: Robert Frost
March: Emily Dickinson
April:Walt Whitman
May: Dylan Thomas
June: Rainer Maria Rilke
July: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
August: Jack Prelutsky
September: Lord Byron
October: Maya Angelou
November: W.B. Yeats
December: Shel Silverstein

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Handing Over the Reins - an experiment

Dea has made huge improvements in taking responsibility for her school work. It also seems to have finally clicked that she has to do the work even if it isn't always fun. So, we have decided that we are going to try handing over the reins and letting her run with it.

We're giving her a list of the courses that still need to be finished for graduation requirements. We're expecting a certain number of Math lessons every week. She has to read every day. She will keep track of all work she does in a notebook. We will look over her notebook records & her work once a week. She will not be allowed to just sit around doing nothing. She will still have limitations on screen time. She will still have to do her chores.

This will only be a one year thing, an experiment. It starts in January 2012 and will run through December 2012. Next December we'll sit down and evaluate to decide of this will continue or not. At her current pace, she's set to graduate at 16. So, even if this experiment doesn't work, she'll still have time to get back on track and graduate at 17 or 18. We fully understand that there is the possibility that this will not work. The full responsibility over her education may be too much and she may crack. However, she might be ready for this. It might be a really good thing.

So, here's hoping that his works and that she's ready for this level of control.

Featured Genres 2012

The kids and I have decided to do a reading challenge in 2012. Each month, we will have a featured genre. Each of us will read at least one book from the featured genre each month. We will not restrict our reading only to the featured genre, because the point of this is to make sure we're reading a variety of genres. I know there are some genres my kids have never really explored or have never read just for fun, so I think this will be a fun way to expand their literary horizons, especially if we do this several years in a row.

Here are the planned genres for 2012:
January: Graphic Novels
February: Action/Adventure
March: Mystery/Suspense
April: Biography & Autobiography
May: Historical Fiction
June: Religion/Spirituality
July: Short Story
August: True Crime
September: Science Fiction
October: Horror
November: Classics
December: Fantasy

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Revisiting Books

Readers fall into two main categories - those who read books once and those who will re-read books. I fall into the latter group. I re-read books, and I do it for multiple reasons. Sometimes, it's because I enjoyed the book so much the first time. Sometimes, it's because someone else is reading and I want to be able to discuss it with them, but may not remember much. Other times, it's because I didn't particularly like the book, but want to give it another chance.

Right now, I'm reading Eaters of the Dead for the second time. The first time was for High School English class. It is a retelling of Beowulf and is written by Michael Crichton. Dea is currently reading Beowulf, and Eaters of the Dead is next. I want her to compare the two. I figure, if I'm going to be able to converse with her about the book, it should be fairly fresh in my mind.

Now, I will admit that I was not fond of this book when I first read it. Here is how the main character is introduced:

This is the book of Ahmed ibn-Fadlan, ibn-alAbbas, ibn-Rasid, ibn-Hammad...........

That sentence then goes on to explain who he is, and the sentence is a full paragraph in itself. Now, in my memory, that is how the names are written quite often in the book. Though, upon recent reflection, I realized that may not be the case. I think my disappointment in the book's content colored my opinion a bit much. I also think that my dislike of the book made me remember it different than it actually is. That's actually quite normal. If an experience is negative, we tend to remember the negative things more prominently.

You may be wondering why I was disappointed in the book when I read it in High School. To be honest, it just was not what I was expecting. A few times in High School English, we would get a choice of books - you can read book A or book B, or sometimes even book A, book B, or book C. This was one of those. I don't remember what our other choice was, but I remember that I had already read it. We got no explanation or description of the books, just titles. Eaters of the Dead was a great title and sounded like it might be a horror book or something about a cannibalistic tribe or something along those lines. Plus, as I said, I had read the other book. So, I chose Eaters of the Dead. Then, I start reading to find out that it is nothing like I had thought it might be. I was truly disappointed. Here I was, expecting something with horror & gore or at least a suspense/thriller, and instead I get a retelling of Beowulf with a main character who is introduced with his bloodline back to his great-grandfather. I was disappointed. I was irritated that there were so few options from which to choose. I was bothered that the teacher hadn't told us anything about the book when offering it as an option. If I had known what to expect, my opinion might have differed greatly.

I recognize that my original opinions of this book were colored by the situation surrounding my reading it.  So, I chose to read it again, to gain a fresh perspective (one not biased by a negative situation). I have to say that I am glad I decided to read it again. I'm only about 60 pages in, but it is much better than I remember it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner part 1

There has been some interest expressed in the recipes for our Thanksgiving menu. I was hoping to have time to sit & type them all out and add all the pics. However, with Jay being sick, the puppy recovering from surgery, the house a disaster, the ongoing purging, the Advent tree activities, etc., I'm not finding that kind of time. So, I figure I'll try to do it in multiple posts instead.

I'll start with the dishes that I had no recipe for:

Cranberry Honey Turkey:
23lb Turkey
Chicken stock in bottom of roasting pan
1/2 jar of Cranberry Mustard mixed with a few Tablespoons of Honey - smear over Turkey
cover with aluminum foil & cook for about 4 hrs, remove foil & cook for about 1 hr

Cranberry-Strawberry Sauce:
2 bags of fresh cranberries
1 bag frozen strawberries
cook cranberries in pot of water until almost done, drain 3/4 the water from pot
add strawberries & a few squirts of honey
cook 5-10 more minutes, then mash

Mashed Potatoes with Dill & Chives:
Red Potatoes - cut, boiled til tender, drained
add in chopped fresh dill & chopped fresh chives
add chicken stock as needed

Fried Polenta:
in pot, boil 2 3/4C water
in bowl mix 1 cup cornmeal & 1 cup cold water
add cold mixture to boiling water, stirring constantly
return to boiling & reduce heat to low
cook 10-15 minutes more, or until thick
pour in loaf pan, cover, put in fridge overnight
remove from pan, slice, and fry in butter in frying pan

We did 2 batches, one plain and the other with dried fruit. We added the dried fruit before pouring into loaf pan.

Fruit Salad:
fresh strawberries, halved
fresh blueberries
fresh blackberries
fresh raspberries
1 can pineapple chunks

There will be another post for the other 4 dishes we had for Thanksgiving.

Christmas Plans

We're doing all our Advent stuff - read-alouds, movies/shows, family activities. We've been good about choosing one every night. There are a few that have specific days or times for us to do them, but movies & books are great for during the week. We've really been enjoying it all so far.

I don't know what our plans are for Christmas with anyone else. I don't know if we'll be going to the big family Christmas this year. I have most of our Christmas at home planned, though. I have purchased all the presents:

For Dea: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook, Pail of Primates bucket adoption from WWF
In her stocking: socks (they always need more socks), candy

For Jay: Arabian Nights, Tub of Cubs bucket adoption from WWF
In his stocking: socks, candy

Our big present for both kids was that we were redecorating their bedrooms. We had some unexpected expenses, so the bedrooms won't be done until next year.

For my hubby: He really wants a nice Nativity set, so I've decided to buy him one. However, I'm buying it in pieces, especially since I'm getting him a Fontanini set, which are slightly pricey. This year, he's getting the stable & the Holy Family pieces.
From the kids: Sea Otter adoption from WWF

For me: I don't know if I'm getting anything from my hubby.
From the kids: (yes I know what I'm getting from them, since I bought it) a Wolf adoption from WWF

We're not doing much for decorations. The house is a disaster due to the ongoing purging & I just don't feel like all the decorating this year. We have our stockings up and the cheap little Nativity scene that we have is being put out. The kids are hanging garland in their rooms, as well as the ornaments they made at their grandparents' house. They have also been told they can use the window markers to decorate their windows. That's it. No tree. No lights. Nothing big.

I'm going to get a new shelf put up in the living room sometime before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, after everyone has gone to bed, I will put the pieces of the Nativity I bought for hubby on the shelf. That way, he'll see them when he first gets up. I will also be hiding the plush animals that came with the 'adoptions' throughout the house. Then, on Christmas morning, I'll present everyone with their adoption certificates, and we will take a safari through the house to find all the animals.

I'm not going to do the big dinner for Christmas. We're going to do finger foods instead. I still have to figure out the exact menu. Other than the menu, I am done planning our Christmas. Though, I might pick up a few more things for the stockings.